Before its debut in bookstores in 2006, Cormac McCarthy's postapocalyptic novel The Road was passed around Hollywood in galley form like any high-profile new work. One guy who got his hands on a copy was Hillcoat, an Australian director whose only major movie, 2005's The Proposition, was primarily influenced by McCarthy's 1985 Western novel Blood Meridian. "Right away, The Road was on my list of my top three favorite books," says Hillcoat. "It probably had the most impact of any novel on me." He knew that getting the film rights might be tough, and sure enough, "some studios were after it as well," he says. "But they decided it was too dark."
It was the opening that Hillcoat and his producers needed. By striking first and fast, a director with only one American release to his name grabbed control of a book that would go on to huge critical and commercial success, winning the Pulitzer Prize and the sales-boosting endorsement of Oprah's Book Club last year. In the film, Mortensen stars as an exhausted but loving father guiding his son (Smit-McPhee) across a desolate America following an unspecified cataclysm.
Of course, even fans of the novel have to wonder if the studios that passed on the project weren't onto something: Is the story too grim to work on screen? Mortensen insists that, above all, The Road remains a touching father-son story. "You look at it on the page, and it's a leap of faith as a film," he says. "Because it's just the man and the boy, along a pretty bleak landscape, it could be a recipe for disaster it could be, if not dull, then just a relentless downer of a movie. But actually, it's rich emotionally, and the story is ultimately hopeful."
OUR TWO CENTS Even if the movie's only half as good as the novel, that might be good enough for an Oscar nod...or more.
DEEP DIVE On CormacMcCarthy.com you can find ''Cormac McCarthy’s Venomous Fiction,'' a long 1992 interview that’s one of the few the reclusive author has given